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Blue Devils top Portal in county clash

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    The Statesboro Blue Devils had heard all the talk about how good the Portal Panther basketball team was. Saturday night SHS showed it wasn't quite ready to give up the crown as Bulloch County's top squad.
    Statesboro built a 13-point second-half lead, then held off a furious Panther rally for a 56-49 win in front of a capacity crowd.
    The Blue Devils stretched their margin to 38-25 with 2:16 left to go in the third before PHS made its run.
    The Panthers scored six straight to end the third quarter and cut the lead to seven going into the fourth. When the gap closed to five at 43-38, PHS (14-4) had three opportunities to keep the momentum but failed on each try.
    After an SHS turnover, Portal called a timeout to set up its next play, but then turned the ball over themselves. Mario Farris then stole the ball on the next possession, but was called for a charge on the subsequent fastbreak. The Panthers forced yet another turnover from SHS, but Fred Williams threw the ball away and Statesboro would build the lead back up to seven at 45-38.
    "It was just a tough game," said Portal head coach Jeff Brannen. "Our shots weren't falling, and we made a couple mental mistakes and Statesboro High took advantage of it."
    Portal would actually draw within three twice, after a Williams 3-point play made it 49-46 and then a Marquan Jackson 3-ponter made it a 52-49 with :30 left. But the Blue Devils would score back-to-back fastbreak buckets to seal the win.
    "I thought overall we could have folded the tent," said SHS head coach Lee Hill. "But the kids kept their composure."
    Statesboro leader Justin Houston picked up his fourth foul with 4:35 left in the third quarter and then fouled out with 3:19 left to go in the game. Houston finished with 11 points, all of which came in the first half.
    With Houston in early foul trouble, it was left up to the rest of the Devils to pick up the slack. Eric Ferguson heeded the call.
    Late in the second quarter, Ferguson ran the wing on a fastbreak, took a pass in stride and slammed the ball one-handed over two Portal defenders. Ferguson finished with nine points, five rebounds and the highlight of the game.
    "I knew I needed to dunk because Portal’s been saying I wouldn't get a dunk on ’em." said the junior. "I saw I had my opportunity so I went ahead and did it. It's a big rivalry and there had been a lot of talk."
    Ferguson and SHS (8-9) started the game red hot from the field, sinking four of their first five 3-pointers and building an 11-4 lead. Portal would close the lead to 20-16 after one, but never did seem to recover from the slow start. Portal shot just 2-for-9 in the second quarter while the Devils built a 10-point lead going into the half.
    Patrick Parker led SHS with 14 points and an exclamation-point dunk in the closing seconds. Farris finished with nine points and five rebounds while brother Dan made his Portal debut with eight boards. Williams had 16 points to lead the Panthers, but five of those came in the waning moments. Portal's go-to guy was held to just five shot attempts in the second half. Jackson, Portal’s point guard, finished with 12 points.
    Statesboro will hit the road on Tuesday when it resumes region play at Lakeside. The Panthers will also be on the road Tuesday to take on Metter.
    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912)-489-9404.
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